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Time for Termites to Swarm

Termite swarm cuts to internal timberworkAt the beginning of our storm season termites begin to swarm and will continue to swarm for the next four months.

These flying termites are called “alates” and have reproductive capabilities, that is to say that they are striving to become the “kings and queens” of new colonies.

In a typical swarm (or colonizing flight), the original colony will release tens of thousands of these alates. It typically happens when there is a lot of humidity in the atmosphere, as the termites can stay in the open air for a longer period of time. The alates also have a slightly harder skin than the other termite castes, which also buys them, time in the open air.

In normal circumstances, a termite can only last 2-3 hours in the open air before they desiccate and die. However alates can survive for 24 hours, and it is in this time space that they have to find food, shelter, and moisture, in order to start a colony. The odds are certainly stacked against them, because they are high on the menu for a plethora of birds, lizards, frogs, and other insects.

Do flying alates attack your house?

The important thing for the homeowner to realise is that these alates do not attack your house. While you may have a lot of the alates attracted to your house lights, in the same manner as moths, they do not eat your timber. However if the swarm is released from within your building, then you certainly need to give me a call, as this indicates that your house is likely to be sitting on a nest and will have sustained timber damage.

As the alates are looking for ideal nest sites, it is very important to rid your property of these sites and other favourable conditions:

  • reduce moisture sources
  • repair any leaking taps or rusty water tanks
  • plumb any air conditioning overflow pipes to drainage
  • remove any likely nest sites for example:
    • tree stumps
    • wood piles,
    • old landscaping sleepers, etc.
  • repair any decaying timber, because decaying timber holds all three elements of a perfect nest site, moisture, food, and shelter.

The alates must be correctly identified, as common ants look vaguely similar. However common ants have three segments to their bodies, and two sets of uneven sized wings. Alates have only two segments to their bodies, and have two sets of identical sized wings.

If you experience a swarm flight near you, it may be an opportunity to find a colony or termite source near your property, which then gives us the ability to remove the source and therefore potential risk to your property.

So if you are at all concerned by a swarm flight, feel free to contact Ashley Smith at Maroochy River Pest Control.

Termites are Still a Threat in the Colder Months

While it is true that most insect activity subsides with colder weather, termites are still quite active and still pose a constant threat to our property.

Subterranean termites are a social insect, which means that the colony has a caste structure (not unlike bees and ants). There are kings, queens, alates, nymphs, soldiers, and workers (it is the worker caste which causes damage to our property). In the colder weather, the workers will travel smaller distances for food, as the colony draws more of the population back to the nest in order to control the nest temperature. Therefore the distance of your property to the nest, dictates a major part of your risk factor at this time of the year, and as a result it is important to know what a termite nest looks like.

Identifying termite nests

In some cases, the termite nest may be totally underground, and therefore impossible to detect with the naked eye (this is when a termite monitoring/baiting system is useful). However other termite nests are quite obvious when you know what to look for.

  • Arboreal termites often have very obvious nests which look like a big dark coloured mound up in the tree branches, equally obvious are the mud mound nests found on the ground.
  • Termites will often nest in dead trees or stumps and therefore it is very important to have dead trees and stumps completely removed from your property.
  • The more voracious termite species can often nest within a living tree, and it is not until you look very closely at the outer bark that you discover what lies within.

Termites are soft bodied animals, and cannot be exposed to the open air for a prolonged period without drying up and dying, therefore if there is any point where air can enter the nest, they will seal it off with mud. In addition the termites create “swarm cuts” in the tree which they temporarily seal off with mud. These are later used in humid weather for the release of the winged reproductive caste (the alates).

The telltale signs to look for on a living tree is therefore any mudding on the outer bark layers. Generally if a tree is less than 30 centimetres in diameter at the base, it will be too small to contain a termite nest, however nothing should be discounted including the species of tree.

A nest of subterranean termites in a Turpentine treeThe photo at right is of a “Turpentine” tree which appears quite healthy. I don’t often find termite nests in “Turpentine’s”, however this one did contain a nest of subterranean termites, and is less than 15 metres from a brand new house.

I drilled into the root crown area and took a temperature reading which confirmed the presence of the nest. By a bit more drilling and a few more temperature readings, I was able to locate the colony centre which then allowed me to minimise the amount of insecticide used to eliminate the nest. After a period of three weeks had passed, I re-tested the temperature, which confirmed that the nest had been eliminated. It has now been a few months since the treatment, and the tree is looking even healthier than ever. In addition the source of the risk element to the property has been eliminated, a great result all-round.

If the home owner is unsure if their trees contain termite nests or not, then I would always recommend involving a professional and following the local council regulations regarding trees (especially if removal or pruning is required).

Termite Misconceptions

In my travels I hear many things said by property owners which indicate some misconceptions about termites (white ants).

The first misconception is that termites won’t eat hardwood timbers

This is totally untrue, as our native termites have been feeding on Eucalypt timbers long before the first house was built. Some termite species actually prefer hardwood timbers, in fact the attractant timbers used in most professional baiting systems are hardwoods. Generally, termites will damage softwood timbers remarkably quicker than the more dense hardwood varieties, which is where this misconception comes from.

The second misconception is that if I have termites in my yard (in a tree stump for instance) and I leave them alone, they wont attack my buildings

The termite species needs to be properly identified, as it is true that some termite species will not attack sound seasoned timber.c

However if the termite species is a subterranean termite species that is a threat to seasoned timber, then I can guarantee that over time they will find and infest any unprotected food source. Termite activity can be used to indirectly eliminate the termite colony, and therefore reduce the pressure of infestation on your property.

The third misconception is that termites were brought in with a delivery of mulch or firewood

Once individual termites (workers and soldiers) are cut off from the colony, they become geriatric and no longer feed. They do not have reproductive capability and therefore cannot create more termites. It is highly likely that termites have started feeding on the mulch or firewood after it was delivered, which means there is a nest within range of your property.

If you have any concerns about termites, feel free to ring Maroochy River Pest Control on 5472 8558 or 0421 496 370, to arrange for a thorough termite inspection, report, and treatment options if required.





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